Night Demon: In The Book of Heavy Metal
Night Demon have entered the world of heavy metal like a possessed muscle car crashing through the gates of Hell, and they haven’t slowed down since they hit the road back in October 2014. These guys have an explosive live set, a solid debut album in Curse of the Damned and a dedication of continuing the unbroken line of heavy metal that influenced them to start making music in the first place. If this is your first time hearing about this insanely talented trio, then get your ass down to Club X on July 2 for a live set you’ll never forget. SLUG sat down with bassist and vocalist Jarvis Leatherby to get an inside look at a band that’s conquering the world one show at a time.
SLUG: Next week’s show will be your third in SLC in less than a year. How do you guys manage to tour so often?
Night Demon: Well, we just kind of have. We’re gonna take a break here, coming up, for a little bit.
SLUG: How’s the tour been? I know you guys have been touring pretty much nonstop for the last year.
Night Demon: It’s been going pretty well. Pretty much for the last eight months straight, we’ve been going. We did the tour in support of Raven for two and a half months last fall, then we took a couple weeks for Christmas, then we went out in the States again with Skull Fist. Then we went to Europe for about 10 weeks, and we’ve been on a headlining tour for the last two and a half months. We’ve got a few weeks left.
I think the support tours in the States have really helped us get more known around here, and coming back and hitting things hard by ourselves has been a really good thing for us. We’re trying not to oversaturate it or burn this thing out. There’s still people out there to discover the band. We’re a newer band, you know, so to speak.
Life on the road is really tough, but it’s very rewarding at the same time. It’s a full-time job for us, so we’re enjoying it.
SLUG: How do you guys maintain such a rigorous touring schedule? You mentioned that it’s pretty tough out there.
Night Demon: It is. I think it’s by design. Some bands, they get to the level where they have a booking agency, or they’re signed, or they have management or something, and they kind of wait for things to happen—waiting for some opportunities to open up for them, for supporting bands and stuff.
For us, we just plan things out six months ahead of time, and consistently have been able to line up tours, instead of sitting around and just waiting for things to happen. You get burnt out sometimes, you know, but the shows have been great. That’s been the one saving grace—it’s the travel and everything else that weighs you down. We take [t very seriously, and that’s why we’ve committed to doing it.
We know that, in this style of music, the only way to really break through is to go and service your audience, no matter where they are. We play a lot of small towns, too—not just the big cities. We do the same thing in Europe—we play a lot of small places, not just the festivals and metropolitan cities, you know? It’s starting to pay off.
We’ve built something really good here, leading up into the next record.
Again, it’s by design. You have to go after it. You gotta plan. We planned most of this tour ourselves, just through meeting people from the other tours and knowing people in the metal scene, so it’s still a really DIY effort, even with Steamhammer in Europe and Century Media here. You still gotta make things happen on your own as a band, and you have to have your own plan in order to execute it properly.
SLUG: What are some of the most memorable shows you’ve played?
Night Demon: The Metal Assault Festival in Germany back in January was pretty cool. We played the Cleveland Agora last month, and that was awesome. Actually, that was this month! That was great, man. That was the biggest U.S. show we’ve had, to date. We’ve got some really good buzz going on in Cleveland—it’s like our Detroit Rock City, if you will—and people were really excited to see us out there. We got to host a local FM radio show the night before. There was just a lot of excitement around our band coming back to Cleveland, so that was really nice.
Even this year, we’ve played more than 100 shows already, so playing gigs, for us now, is kind of like everyday life. Not that we don’t enjoy it—the show never gets stale, you know—but it’s just hard to say. Every day is a unique experience.
SLUG: Yeah, I remember when you guys came through town in support of Skull Fist, and your live show was huge, even though you guys are just a three-piece band! How do you prepare such an outstanding live performance?
Night Demon: It’s a progression, man. It just started as three guys, and we’ve just slowly added some things. Early on, we just had a set scene of lights and we had real Park amps on stage. Those shows got really hot, you know? We had backdrops and stuff, you know—things like that. The show has even evolved now. You know, we travel in a van, and we don’t even travel with a trailer. We try to bring the biggest show to these clubs that we can on a minimal footprint. We’ve done a lot of research into the technology, and used trial and error. We bought a bunch of stuff for this last show, and if it hasn’t worked so well, or isn’t durable or doesn’t hold up, then we have to get something new. We’re just always trying to think of new things that we can do for the show.
Our goal is to go into these small bars or small clubs when we are headlining, and really bring in the big rock show. We want to give people the visual aspect of it, too—not just the music—and really kinda try to blow people’s minds that way. They appreciate it more, I think, when you go out there and give it your best effort, no matter how many people are there, or what size of club it is. We pride ourselves on that. We’re out here doing this, and we’ve committed ourselves to doing this, so we don’t want to leave any stone unturned, and we don’t want to get lazy with it.
We see ourselves on a much bigger level than we are, really, when we come into the live environment. That’s what we want to portray, and we want to give our fans their money’s worth.
SLUG: You have this really awesome voice, and you really belt it out in your live performances. How do you keep your instrument tuned over such a long period of time?
Night Demon: I smoke about a pack of cigarettes a day. I’m not kidding you, I really do. I’ve studied with a lot of different vocal teachers, because early on in my career, I was just blowing my voice out after just one show, or one rehearsal. Really, you just gotta learn how to sing.
You know, there’s some nights when we’ve been doing like 14 shows in a row when it’s pretty touch-and-go—when I’m not at 100 percent and I can feel it, you know? Your body is an instrument, and you’ve got to find the ways to get through certain vocal passages. You can resonate in a different part of your body if a certain part of your voice is not on point that night.
Generally, my rule is to warm up before every show. I have this whole routine that I go through physically, and I take about 45 minutes before each gig to do that. Then I try to do a little cooldown with my voice after the gig. Hydration is important, you gotta drink a lot of water. Stay away from the caffeine. I know I smoke, but I’m working on that. Sleep is another really underrated thing. Your body is an instrument, and you really do have to take care of it. You know, I like to party and have a good time, but you gotta reel it in at a certain point.
SLUG: You mentioned that you guys are going to be taking a break for a little bit at the end of this tour. What do you have planned for when you make it back to Ventura?
Night Demon: The band never really “takes a break,” you know? The goal is to go home and write some new songs. Even though the album came out in January, we had finished recording in August, and we had the songs even before that. In our minds, the creativity is flowing, and it’s time to get going on some new stuff. So, hopefully, by the time we hit the road again, that will all be finished and in the works to be released next year.
We’ve gone pretty much everywhere we can with this record—everywhere it’s allowed us. We’ve been to Europe a couple of times, and for long periods of time. The Skull Fist tour happened before the record came out, as well as the Raven tour. With this headlining tour in the States, I think we’ve really given this record a chance in the live environment, and I think it’s time to move on to new things.
SLUG: I heard you, and perhaps other members of the band, were involved in the Nardcore scene in California. How did you first get involved with that?
Night Demon: Just growing up out there. It’s a small town, and we grew up in the punk scene as “the metalheads.” We were into punk, but there’s not a lot of metalheads out there. In earlier bands, we were playing with a lot of these bands as the only metal band on the bill. I mean, those were the shows that were around.
All of our friends are involved in it, and we know all the bands—we’re very close with them. I put on a festival every summer called Nardfest, so I’m the creator of that festival. It’s coming up again here on August 29 and 30.
That’s a big part of our heritage, and I kinda spearheaded it. I really tried to put it on the map on a global scale. It’s part of where we’re from—that’s our local scene—so we are somewhat ambassadors of it.
SLUG: How did you go from being a part of the So Cal punk scene to wanting to play heavy metal?
Night Demon: Well, I wanted to play heavy metal before I became part of that scene. That was always around us, but as kids, we were all into metal. Metallica, Iron Maiden, Megadeth—those were the bands that were accessible, that we knew from Headbanger’s Ball. Those bands were the gateway to the things of the past, and we dug deeper and wanted to know about the bands that influenced these bands. Through that, we found the New Wave of British Heavy Metal—this was all pre-Internet and we’d just take what we could get. We’d go to record stores, we’d do tape trading, we’d order copies of Sounds Magazine or Kerrang! and other import stuff. Just between us three friends—me and Brent and Pat, our original drummer—we just had our own scene with this kind of stuff. When we first started out and we were 19, we had no idea that the world would even care about what we were doing. It was just kind of a fun project for us to show our friends, you know? It’s why we didn’t play for the first year that we recorded.
It was our friends that kept telling us, “You guys gotta do this band!” Out there, they’re not going “Oh, this is great, NWOBHM-style metal,” because they don’t know what that is. All they know is that it’s melodic and it’s cool, you know? To a lot of people, what we do is a completely new style of music.
SLUG: When did you finally bite the bullet and start up Night Demon?
Night Demon: It was 2012, we had recorded the EP in 2011. The band had only rehearsed four or five times before we did that. It was real quick thing. But in 2012, we got offered a show in LA, and we were like “Yeah, let’s get it together and just go have some fun.” That show, man, just went off. Being from Ventura, an area outside of LA—we’ve all been in bands through the years, and we’ve all had other friends in bands over the years, but LA is a very hard town to make it in. There’s a whole lot of competition, there’s a whole lot of pay-to-play going on. Everybody from everywhere lives there now, trying to make it and stuff like that.
We just wanted to have fun playing heavy metal, and we went out there and it was pretty much overnight. You know, people were like, “Whoa, this is fucking crazy.” The next week, we got an offer to play the Keep it True Festival in Germany, and at the time, we didn’t even have a Facebook page or a website or anything. They just kind of found us and booked us like 14 months in advance, so we’re like “Okay, wow. This is real. We’re going to Europe to play in one of the world’s biggest true heavy metal festivals this year, so let’s get this thing going. Let’s get it together, let’s live our childhood fantasies that we never thought would be possible.”
We had always loved metal, but we’d never followed it online—we didn’t know that there was this huge subculture worldwide of people that were just really into this stuff, and there were younger kids getting into it. When we became a part of that, the floodgates just kind of opened, and we’ve never looked back since.
SLUG: How do you feel about the recent spotlight on traditional or heavy metal acts?
Night Demon: You know, here’s what I realized about it—there’s a book coming out about it, and I was asked to write the foreword, which was very cool, and I did that—I don’t think it ever really went away. I don’t really see it as a resurgence. The world now is so much smaller with the Internet that people can connect easily and find each other, find where the festivals are and find the people who are into it. They can talk to their favorite bands that are underground, and I think that’s what it is.
With Facebook, everyone has their own website, so they have no reason to go to any other website. They only see what their friends are posting, and their friends only see what they’re posting, so I think that once people start exposing this stuff, it exposes it to their immediate audience. I think that’s how things grow.
So, I think there is some sort of resurgence, but at the same time, I don’t really think it ever went away. I think people were underground, and they didn’t really have a voice to express it. Now that that’s possible, I think it’s a really good thing for the genre.
I don’t think we’re a throwback band or a novelty band in any way. I think we’re very current, in a lot of senses—mostly because we haven’t adopted the fashion of it. We know it’s 2015, we just play the style of music that we like. We’re not trying to pretend that it’s 1983, and we’re living in that time, you know?
The audience for this type of music is very loyal, from the time they get into it ‘til death. I’ve seen it. I don’t want it to sound like “Oh, this is making a comeback, and we’re gonna ride this wave while it’s here,” because it’s not going away.
I don’t think any musical genre is going away anymore, because the Internet has made it so that the mainstream is dead. It’s impossible for big corporations, record labels and radio stations to decide what’s cool, what’s new, what’s hip and what people should listen to. I think people find music in a different way, now. You don’t have to go to the major news outlets to decide what’s new.
SLUG: Yeah, it’s always weird to see labels touting bands as this “next big thing” that’s bringing back a “style from the ‘80s” when you have bands like Twisted Tower Dire that have been around pretty much since the mid-‘90s.
Night Demon: Also, when nu-metal came in, it was on MTV and MTV was still king, and it was on major radio and radio was still king. Around that time in the late ‘90s, I was booking King Diamond, I brought Mercyful Fate in—so many bands!—Death, Hammerfall did their first tour. I’m telling you, you’d be lucky to get like 200 people at these shows. It was dead, man, and it was because of the influence from the mainstream, ‘cause that wasn’t cool anymore.
Now I think things have totally changed for the better. People just like what they like, and they go support it.
SLUG: Yeah, man. It’s kind of interesting, because your style is very current and incorporates a lot of influences beyond just metal. For example, you guys sound like you have a really big D-Beat/Motörhead influence. How do you reconcile that stripped-down punk rock sound with your heavy metal roots?
Night Demon: We’re a three-piece band, and instead of adding a second guitarist, I’ve made my bass tone very aggressive. It’s almost like another guitar. We play through gear from the ‘70s, we have a small drum kit. We keep it real. It’s very rock n’ roll, it’s very punk. I’m not ashamed to admit that I don’t really own a lot of Motörhead’s stuff. I know the classic stuff, and I like the first lineup of it, but I’m not a huge Motörhead fan. I do like Motörhead a lot, but by no means are they one of my favorite bands. The style of Motörhead has definitely influenced us. Raw and aggressive energy just comes out of us naturally. That’s why we record our records live, too, you know? We don’t mess around in the studio. Some of it comes down to the equipment, too. We don’t use any digital processing, we don’t down-tune the guitars, we don’t go into that realm.
I’m not against that stuff, that stuff is all cool—it’s just not what we want to do. Motörhead is a great hard rock band. They’re very punk in a way, and so are we. I mean, growing up in the punk scene—that’s how we learned all of our ideals, and even different styles of playing, so I think we relate to them in that way.
On the heavy metal front, we’re not into magic and wizards and stuff—we’re just not into it. I love bands that do that stuff, like epic metal. It’s just not our thing. Our technical prowess is not up to par with a lot of other current bands—there’s many other bands in our genre that can play circles around us. We’re pretty bare-bones—we’re songwriters and we’re live performers. We’d like to serve the song and not have to put our personal stamp of virtuosity on it, you know?
The younger generation of guitar players right now are really, really amazing. I’m really surprised. When the Guitar Center days became really huge, everyone just said, “Okay, Green Day’s big—I can just start a band.” But with metal, a lot of these younger guitar players are very, very technically sound, and I’ve seen it all over the country and all over the world. Some of them play a lot better than us! Now, the songwriting and the crafting of the live show needs some work, but that takes years and years of playing. It takes experience, you know?
SLUG: Not too many metal bands are able to make it through Salt Lake City. It’s cool to see you guys are coming back for the third show. What keeps you guys coming back to our fair city?
Night Demon: Visigoth.
Night Demon: Visigoth, man. You guys have a legitimate, true heavy metal band in that town. They’ve created awareness of themselves and of the scene, and any time we want to come through town, they’re the ones who set up the show. I do vice versa for them, when they come through our town, whether we’re there or not. I helped those guys set up their West Coast tour, and that was very successful for them. That’s the main reason.
We go through a lot of cities where we don’t know a band like that, and it’s sometimes unfortunate because the people who might be into that show or into that scene just don’t know about it—or know who we are, for that matter. You’ve got something gold out there in a band like Visigoth, and we want to play with them as much as we can and represent ourselves there. The first two shows there, they represented well and their crowd came out. There’s people from surrounding areas of Utah who drive to come see us now for a couple of hours.
Salt Lake is a destination—it’s a big spot on the map. In that part of the country, there’s nothing else around. I guess some bands don’t come through because of that. We’ve committed to playing through all of these small towns in upstate New York and North Carolina and what have you, but we have to come to Salt Lake. We have to go to Denver, and we have to go to a bunch of places that aren’t that easy to get to.
But there’s something going on. There’s metalheads there. They appreciate it, so we have to go there. We definitely enjoy it and we’ve had success there, so why stop now?
[Visigoth] have built something and they’re passionate and they do it well. We love teaming up with those kinds of bands. The first time we ever went, when we came through town with Raven, I had those guys set up the show. We didn’t go through some big agency or some big promoter. Those guys set up the show. It’s still very underground and DIY in the cooperation aspect, so we gotta keep feeding that beast!
SLUG: What are some of the goals that you would like to accomplish in the future of Night Demon?
Night Demon: World Domination.
Nah, just kidding. Really, we just want to keep putting out records and keep touring. We want to grow the name of the band. To be honest with you, man, I just want to get in the books! Like, when it’s all said and done. I don’t have any kids, I’m not married. That’s never been a plan of mine.
To be able to go out every day and do what you love and display your art like that and have fans appreciate it so much … We just want to be mentioned, at the end of the day, in the same conversation as the bands that inspired us! It’s already starting to happen in a lot of places, a lot of different corners of the world. It’s an honor for us to be on that level and playing with some of our heroes, who have now become friends and peers. We want to fly the flag for a new generation.
In 10 or 15 years, the Judas Priests and the Iron Maidens and the Metallicas—you know, they will probably not be around. This audience, this fan base—they need somebody to champion them and keep it going, and that’s really where we feel that we fit in. That’s what we want to do.
Like I said before, we were basically alone on a desert island for 20 years, so we had no idea that anybody would care. The fact that they do and they care so much—we have some very die-hard fans, and we’ve toured so much and we’ve earned their respect—we just want to go ahead and see it through.
I think a lot about my legacy and the legacy of the band, and we try to make the right decisions all the time, and we do learn from our mistakes. We’ve turned a lot of opportunities down and we’ve never sold out. We’ve always wanted to do what was right for the band and what was right for the fans.
We feel a great responsibility to our fans. There’s a lot of bands that say, “Well, here’s the direction we’re going in. If you don’t like it, screw you. It’s our band.” But I don’t feel that way about it. I feel like we need to keep making music for the fans that they like and that they deserve. If we want to do some other style of music, then it shouldn’t be under the Night Demon name.
I do feel bad for guys like Metallica. These guys have to go around playing songs that they wrote when they were 18 years old, for the rest of their lives! You’re in your mid-50s. Your tastes change—I get it, and you should have that creative outlet—but to say to the fans, “If you don’t like it, fuck off!” or to just use the Metallica name. I understand that this is big business, and I’m not harping on those guys. I have a lot of respect for those guys. It is a business—I can’t even comprehend! I’m responsible for me and two other guys, and our roadie. Those guys are responsible for 500-plus people. Who knows, maybe their livelihoods depend on it. It’s just a whole other world.
That’s not necessarily the goal for us—to be famous—our goal is to make a living doing what we do, and just enjoying it—being able to play in front of our fans. So far so good. We’re doing a lot better than most bands, and I’m grateful for that.
We live very modest lives, and our goal is just to keep on growing our fanbase and keep this dream alive.
Don’t miss Night Demon at Club X on July 2! Openers Befouler are playing their first live show, while SLC’s heavy metal stalwarts Deathblow and Visigoth will be building anticipation and excitement for this phenomenal lineup. Tix are just 10 bucks, and the show starts at 8:30, so don’t be late!